Series on Persuasion: Pygmalion at work

Verbal Persuasion is another source of self-efficacy. Essentially this involves convincing people that they have the ability to succeed at a particular task. The best way for a leader to use verbal persuasion is through the Pygmalion effect. The Pygmalion effect is a form of a self-fulfilling prophesy in which believing something to be true can make it true.



Rosenthal and Jacobson’s (1968) classic study is a good example of the Pygmalion effect. Teachers were told by their supervisor that one group of students had very high IQ scores (when in fact they had average to low IQ scores), and the same teacher was told that another group of students had low IQ scores (when in fact they had high IQ scores).


Consistent with the Pygmalion effect, the teachers spent more time with the students they thought were smart, gave them more challenging assignments, and expected more of them—all of which led to higher student self-efficacy and better student grades. A more recent experiment conducted by Harvard researchers in a ghetto community produced similar results (Rist, 2000). The Pygmalion effect also has been used in the workplace. Research has indicated that when managers are confident that their subordinates can successfully perform a task, the subordinates perform at a higher level. However, the power of the persuasion would be contingent on the leader’s credibility, previous relationship with the employees, and the leader’s influence in the organization (Eden, 2003).